By: Hannah Mamet  | 

A Renewed Call to Appreciate YU’s Torah UMadda

Having attended a Modern Orthodox high school, I certainly heard of Torah UMadda before coming to campus. I learned of its definition and knew it was associated with Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Also, having two older siblings who attended YU, I was very familiar with the classic, magnetic blue and white logo that is attached all over our refrigerator. However, looking back at my first year of college, it was not until I stepped onto the Stern campus did I really experience what this truly meant.

The term Torah UMadda, which prominently occupies the center of YU’s logo, was originally popularized by the late Rabbi Norman Lamm, one of YU’s past presidents. It is generally interpreted as valuing Torah studies while also emphasizing the acquisition of secular knowledge.

As someone interested in studying biology, I naturally began my first semester of college taking biology principles and general chemistry. It was here that I suddenly found myself enveloped in a world of science, yet one that was infused with religious meaning. While in high school, the two disciplines were kept separate — general and Judaic subjects had defined periods — I was shocked to find that many of my Stern professors actively incorporated Torah into their lectures. During one of my first chemistry lectures when we learned about the periodic table in depth, Dr. Rapp explained how it was not “organized by Mendeleev until the 1860’s but many elements were known before. For example, six are mentioned in the Torah in Bamidbar 31:22, in the context of metals taken from the spoils of war that need to be purified.” 

When discussing the chemical reaction involved in cavity formation, specifically how acid causes tooth decay, Dr. Rapp quoted a verse from Mishlei: “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy person to those that send him” (10:26).

It was not just in my chemistry class that I experienced Torah UMaada, though. To Dr. Loewy, my biology principles professor, everything about the human body deserves reverence since it is an incredible creation of G-d. During one biology lecture, we learned about the sodium-potassium pump, an electrogenic enzyme found in the membrane of animal cells. Dr. Loewy emphasized the brilliant way it regulates what enters and exits the cell through its ability to alternate between two conformations and changing its affinities towards sodium or potassium. While to an ordinary student in any institution these wise feats of human physiology might merely be nodded at as “interesting” or “cool,” to many of my professors, being religious individuals, these wonders of the human body should be viewed and appreciated by their students as divine creations.

From taking such classes at Stern, I not only learned a tremendous amount of science, but also a surprising amount of Torah. Now, anytime I study science, I am actively amazed by the incredible way in which the human body works.

From these classes I learned many things. I was taught, either verbally or indirectly, to appreciate science from the perspective of a Torah-observant Jew and to appreciate Torah from the perspective of a person who has amassed secular knowledge as well. I gained a new appreciation for the way in which the body functions. Indeed, the prayer asher yatzar beckons us to have the knowledge that “G-d fashioned man with wisdom” and were a bodily function to be ruptured “it would be impossible to survive and stand before” Him. From this perspective of awe, comes another level of respect for others since Jewish tradition also teaches that “G-d created Man in His image” (Bereshit 1:27).

I am proud to be a part of an institution that values adherence to Torah as well as the pursuit of worldly-knowledge and grateful to my professors, who inspire the next generation of religious Jews. I am excited to take this commitment to Torah values and secular knowledge beyond the Stern campus. 


Photo Caption: YU Torah UMadda Emblem

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University